Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Photo by James Damion

Interview by James Damion

The Brixton Riot has been a Jersey Beat favorite since the band’s debut EP in 2007, with a unique mix of, in their own words, “’70's power-pop and punk, ‘80's jangle-rock, and ‘90's indie rock.” With two full albums, one EP, and several singles behind them, the band is prepping a new release for Mint 400 Records, and often finds itself sharing bills with Jersey’s dad-rock scene – bands who are old enough to have families and careers but for whom music is much more than just a hobby. Now thg Brixton Riot is in the process of writing and recording its next album (or possibly EP.) James Damion caught up with guitarist/vocalist Jerry Lardieri to talk about the band's history and future, the changing landscape of New Jersey venues, and baseball.

The Brixton Riot
Jerry Lardieri - Vocals/Guitar
Steve Hass - Bass/Vocals
Mark Wright - Guitar
Matt Horutz - Drums

Q: How does it feel to be writing new songs together?

Jerry: Really great. It's what makes playing in the band so much fun. There are lots of jobs and details that require the four of us to put our heads together but songwriting is probably the most rewarding. Every TBR song is a collaboration to some extent. Nobody really brings completely finished songs to the band and if they do, it's understood that it can be changed at any time by anyone else in the band. The rarest birds are the songs that seem to materialize from nothing at rehearsal. It doesn't happen often but those tend to be really good, probably because it's the product of four minds doing the lifting
instead of one or two.

Q: Is there a certain sense of chemistry or brotherhood you share with Steve, Matt, and Mark that comes into play when you’re making music or playing together?

Jerry: Definitely. Beyond being friends or members of the same band, I can honestly say we're like an extended family. We've each needed to lean on the other three to get through difficult times. Sometimes that means spending half or more of a rehearsal just talking or making jokes and sometimes it means just playing for two hours and blocking out everything else. When my father was in his final years, I knew I could always go to rehearsal and talk about it. We had a show scheduled at Clash Bar three days after his passing and after some initial hesitation about keeping the date, I realized it was exactly what I needed. That night I played the Strat he bought me for my birthday when I was in sixth grade. The guys made sure things never got too heavy and helped me get through it, just as they had helped me get through the tough years at the end. When you share something that personal it brings everyone closer together.

Q: What’s your favorite song from the new record so far?

Jerry: Wow, that is hard to say. There's something I like about each one of the songs. "Can't Stop Now" has my favorite guitar riff, possibly of any TBR song. "Caroline" and "Surrender To The Void" are probably the most personal songs I've written so they're kind of special. I love (Steve's wife) Alex's backing vocals on "Maybe Tomorrow". "Hector Quasar" and "Easier Said Than Done" are songs that I really enjoy playing live. But if I have to pick one, I'm going to say "Move On". It has a lot of the elements that I like best in our songs and it always brings me back to one of my favorite places. I remember when J (Robbins) was mixing it, he texted me "this song's about Maxwell's, isn't it?" and that was pretty awesome. I struggle with writing lyrics more than any other aspect of songwriting so the fact that he got the theme so fast was a huge affirmation.

"Bring On The Dancing Horses" by Echo & The Bunnymen, video directed by Matt Horutz

Q: What went into the decision to cover Echo & the Bunnymen? Have you always been a fan of the band? Or was it the song, itself?

Jerry: I'd say the biggest factor was our inability to get our other covers to pan out. We started with Pat Benatar's "Invincible" from The Legend of Billie Jean and we just couldn't get it to work. Then we tried Blondie's "Call Me", which Matt REALLY petitioned hard for because he's a huge Clem Burke fan. That didn't work either. There were a bunch of other songs that we debated; Steve is always great for finding lost gems and he brought up trying "I Don't Know" from Fast Times At Ridgemont High which is begging for a remake. When we realized that "Dancing Horses" qualified (it had to be a song that was not released before appearing on a movie soundtrack), it was a no-brainer. We've got a few Echo fans in the band so that helped put the vote over the top. I think it worked out well, the original is so synth-centric that playing everything on electric guitar and real drums gave it a different feel. It still sounds like the original but it also sounds like us, so that's a pretty good cover in my book.

Q: What was it like making the video? Did you have a vision going into it?

Jerry: Completely unnatural. I'd never been in a video before and the process of "mime-playing" the song was weird. Do I look at the floor? Look at the mic? Crap, I just looked right at the camera. I didn't like it much at all but I have a feeling we'll be doing more so I better get used to it.

The vision and execution for the "Dancing Horses" video was one hundred percent Matt. He ran the entire shoot - filming, direction, lighting, etc. - all by himself. He even setup a crane to film his drums. He turned out the whole video from shooting to post-production in 10 days while also working his full-time gig at Grey Sky Films. He had some help from Dana Serao who did the editing and Michael Prince and Eric Dubnoff who operated the crane. I think it turned out great and I'm extremely grateful to everyone who worked to turn it around so fast.

Q: You’ve also covered the Jacobites ‘Teenage Christmas’ in the past. What draws you to want to cover another artists work?

Jerry: There are a lot of different things that draw us to covers. Sometimes it's fun just to play another band's song. We played two shows last month where we covered nothing but Lemonheads songs and it was a blast. Usually I pick songs to cover because I really love them. "Teenage Christmas" was something I first heard through Jon Solomon's Christmas Eve marathon. The version I first heard was actually a cover of the original, performed by Eux Autres. I immediately liked it but I fell in love with the song when I heard the Jaccobites original version. I really wanted the band to cover the song and I still hope we get to but I wanted to record something for Al Crisafulli's Christmas Show on WFDU and it was an obvious choice. It's my favorite Christmas song.

Q: Playing shows again. Maybe it’s me, but it seems like you’re playing more shows than ever. Was there ever a case of wanting to slow down?

Jerry: It's funny to hear you say that because we've actually been cutting back a bit. We have had some peaks and valleys in the calendar over the years. When we were working on the record we played very few shows but things have picked up again. We'll likely cut back again while we start working on the next one. I think it's good to go away and come back again. It's hard to get people excited when they know there's another chance to see you in two weeks.

There's also the concern of "going to the well" too often. We've been fortunate to have some really great audiences but it's unpredictable. People have lives, jobs, kids, etc. Maybe that's the natural progression for bands like ours when you reach your 40's. We try to be as accommodating as possible with the shows we play, picking spots with little or no cover when we can and picking dates and time slots that make it reasonable for people to come out. We'll also do things like the Lemonheads shows to make it more enticing for people to come out. So, I don't think there's a conscious desire to slow down just for the sake of slowing down, more like a need to manage the calendar and pick dates carefully.

Q: Times change and many of the bands and venues we once depended on for support and nourishment are no more. How are you adjusting to the shift?

Jerry: It's taken us a long time to get over the loss of Maxwell's and the changes at Asbury Lanes. These venues meant so much more to us than the spaces they occupied. I never stepped foot in Maxwell's after Screaming Females last gig there and we turned down offers to play Maxwell's Tavern out of a sense of loyalty...though we haven't gotten anywhere in our attempts to play Monty Hall or White Eagle Hall. So much for loyalty...
It's even more complicated at Asbury Lanes because Jenn and Layney were such wonderful hosts and ran the Lanes with so much love. Mark was a regular there for a long while and I was there often to see bands. I haven't been to the new Asbury Lanes but I think I'll likely go eventually. It's hard to pass up shows at a Bowery Presents venue that's 20 minutes from my house with no bridge or tunnel tolls.

On a more positive note, there are some great places that have stepped up to fill the gap. FM in Jersey City is a great spot with a full back line. Tony (Susco) has done a fantastic job there. It has a lot of the cool kitschy vibe of the old Asbury Lanes. Monty Hall is another nice spot and I don't think there's a better larger music venue in NJ than White Eagle Hall.

There are a lot of great newer options in Asbury. The Yacht Club is a blast to play being right on the water. It's pretty hard to beat watching a live band from the boardwalk with the ocean to your back. Asbury Park Brewery is presenting some great bills and The Saint continues to be a great room - probably the best sounding venue of its kind in Asbury Park. Angie Surgim has also returned the great Happy Mondays series to the Wonder Bar. So, there are a lot of options.

Bryant Sargent Photography

Q: Mint 400 is putting out the new record. I know you released “Close Counts” through them. Was there anything specific that brought you together?

Jerry: We were fortunate to meet Neil (Sabatino) through a mutual friend and I'm very glad we did. He puts a lot of time and effort into running the label and we definitely appreciate that. I think he understands the kind of records we like to make and he's enthusiastic to have them on Mint 400. More than anything it's great to have a partner through the entire process. I think that's what attracted us all to the label.

Q: How do you plan on supporting the new record?

Jerry: Well now that we've seen what Matt can do behind a camera, there will certainly be more videos down the line. We'll also likely ramp up the show calendar. I'd love to play more festivals and out-of-state spots, so hopefully we can do that as well.

Q: As we get older our goals and responsibilities change. What, if any, are your goals for Brixton Riot and the new release?

Jerry: We always try to put our names on something that has a certain standard, both in the songwriting and the recording quality. That's probably the biggest obstacle to making TBR records, finding the time and the money to really make something that the four of us are excited about releasing and listening to over and over. Steve is the unofficial gate keeper of quality assurance, getting him to buy into a song is no easy task but like he always tells me "everybody needs an editor". Other than that, I think our goal is to continue to reach as many people as possible and hopefully win them over.

Q: I know you’re a big Yankees fan. It’s obvious we both share a love for the game. That said, do you remember your first trip to Yankee stadium? What in particular drew you to the pinstripes and how closely do you follow the team?

Favorite player from your time? All-time favorite?

Jerry: I actually can't remember my first trip to Yankee Stadium other than running around in the nosebleeds with some friends. I was always a Yankee fan growing up but it was my grandmother who really drew me in. She was a big fan of Bernie and Tino and a then very young Derek Jeter. My favorite player was Paul O'Neill and she loved him as well because he was "such a hot head".

I was away at college when the Yankees made their World Series run in 1995 so I called her during the last half inning. She was so excited that she couldn't watch, so I had to relay everything as it happened. When they finally won the game, she went nuts. It was the most excited I had ever heard her.

We talked for a while after the game and eventually said our goodbyes. That call was the catalyst for our "friendship". I started calling her more frequently, from every few weeks to once a week to every couple of days to almost daily. When the Yankees season was over she would ask me about the Rangers, which was strange because she wasn't a hockey fan. When she passed away my mother told me that she used to read the hockey column in the sports section so that we could have more to talk about. Those six years where we talked every day are some of my fondest memories.

I also loved watching games with my Dad as I got older, driving him to the Stadium every year for our annual game. Once my son was hooked at a very early age, my Dad would call him every morning to talk about the game from the night before. I always loved that; my son having the same experience with his grandfather that I had with my grandmother. Now I watch the games with my son and we talk about my grandmother and his grandfather and how they loved the game. The Yankees are the thread that ties all the generations of my family together. That's why I love the team.

Q: Okay, entering the wet dream scenario of the interview where I ask the question… “You get a call from the Yankees front office. They want you to perform at the Stadium prior to or post game ceremony. The catch. You only get to preform one song. One left to your choosing. Which song do you pick?

Jerry: A scenario that absurd deserves an absurd answer - Ace Frehley's "New York Groove".

Q: Why Ace, why that song?

Jerry: Just the appropriateness of the song coupled with the absurdity of the scenario. If you’re going to get one song to play at Yankee Stadium, it better be something the crowd’s going to get into.

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